Florida International University proposes $150 million engineering building — but there is a problem closer to ground level

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youth fair
An image from the Youth Fair site -- the organization disputes FIU's proposals for its relocation

Florida International University (FIU) has unveiled plans for a new $150 million engineering building, but there is a snag — the Youth Fair, which occupies the land, doesn’t want to move — at least under the terms proposed by the university.

FIU president Mark Rosenberg says the 225,000 sq. ft. LEED Gold building, just south of the Modesto A. Maidique Campus, would allow the university to graduate an additional 350 engineers annually.

“This engineering expansion will propel South Florida forward by expanding the quantity and quality of jobs, nurturing start-up companies and acting as a collaborative research center,” Rosenberg said in a statement. “We get it! FIU is a solutions center and we’re determined to do our part to create a tech hub in Miami that will contribute to the prosperity of our region and our state. We’re passionate about developing and keeping talent in our community.”

However, the Youth Fair, which describes itself as “a state-chartered, not-for-profit organization that is dedicated to enriching our community by promoting education and South Florida agriculture” occupies the land on a lease which doesn’t expire until 2085.

YouthFair-is-here-for-years
Image from the Youth Fair website. The organization says ‘no’ to FIU’s relocation proposal.

“The nonprofit fair’s 1995 lease at Miami-Dade’s Tamiami Park . . . requires the county to build the fair a replacement site in the event of an eviction,” the Miami Herald has reported. “As part of a 2014 referendum endorsing FIU’s move into Tamiami, the tax-funded school agreed to cover Miami-Dade’s expenses for relocating the Youth Fair.”

Fair leaders say FIU’s proposed new fairgrounds outside of Homestead is so remote it would bankrupt the annual event and expose the county to legal liability for violating the 1995 lease. The fair, which runs a year-round expo center on the Tamiami site, claims FIU is low-balling how much a new fair site would cost while trying to prod elected leaders into a protracted legal battle.

“Sometimes hard decisions have to be made,” Rosenberg said. “The mayor has the power of leadership … The mayor understands, if he’s really committed to jobs, what’s at risk here.”

A rendering of the proposed FIU engineering building to be built on the site of the current YouthFair
A rendering of the proposed FIU engineering building to be built on the site of the current YouthFair

The Herald report continued:

“FIU appears to believe that repeated references to a site in the Homestead area will somehow render this agreement provision meaningless,” Fair lawyer Roberto Diaz wrote a county attorney, referring to the lease’s requirement for a comparable replacement site. “We ask that Miami-Dade County reject FIU’s efforts to undermine the terms of our lease agreement including its specific relocation requirements.”

Gimenez has already pointed to a court fight with the Youth Fair as a likely outcome, saying he wants FIU to promise to cover the county’s legal costs should Miami-Dade force the event to relocate. In a statement, Gimenez spokesman Michael Hernández said the mayor “strongly supports FIU’s expansion” but that “the county requires FIU to indemnify it and agree to be responsible for all costs” tied to a new fair site.

As a state agency, FIU says it can’t provide the kind of blanket legal protection Miami-Dade wants and pledged only to spend $50 million on a new fair site that the event’s organizers say could cost more than $200 million. That has extended a standoff that Rosenberg said Tuesday needs to be resolved by county leaders forcing action. He called on Gimenez to declare county-owned land outside Homestead the chosen new home for the Youth Fair and suggested that litigation offers a possible solution.

The Youth Fair published a statement after the FIU announcement:

Today’s media event is another attempt by FIU to divert attention from the legal, contractual steps Miami-Dade County must take in relocation of the Fair.

FIU seeks to generate political pressure to force the county into an unwise and unfunded eviction of The Youth Fair.

The Youth Fair will willingly move if Miami-Dade County follows the termination process in our lease. No more, no less.

  • Provide a suitable site, as outlined in the lease
  • Reimburse the Youth Fair for its investment and expenses, as outlined on the lease
  • Provide proper notice

Miami-Dade County and The Youth Fair are evaluating three potential scenarios for relocation. All show promise.

While this process is ongoing, FIU continues its mantra that the Fair must move to Homestead — a site that a study co-funded by FIU showed would kill The Youth Fair and its year-round exposition business.

That study, along with an appraisal jointly commissioned and co-paid by FIU, show relocation would cost several hundred million dollars, yet FIU continues its inexplicable talking point of a $50 million cost.

The Youth Fair stands ready, as it always has, to work alongside Miami-Dade County on a potential relocation. Anything outside that process, including vague promises of economic incubators, an engineering building or anything else, are diversions that have no bearing on the process.

Even if a suitable piece of land is found, The Youth Fair’s lease with the county stipulates that the Fair would have to be given a three-year notice to move. This puts into question how the school under this plan can graduate more engineering students by 2020 if they couldn’t even at the very earliest break ground until 2019. Frankly, none of the numbers coming out of FIU appear to add up.

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